SC serial killer terrorized community, worried trucking families

| 7/9/2009

In Ohio to drop a load of food, Bradley Butler paused to take a phone call from home.

On the other end, Butler’s wife told him police were saying a serial killer had killed at least two people in the family’s hometown of Gaffney, SC, and police were asking residents to lock their doors.

Victims included a peach farmer and two teachers. Two of the slayings occurred only a couple of miles from the Butler family’s front door.

The news worried Butler, particularly because the OOIDA member wouldn’t make it home for another four days.

“They were locking doors, and she didn’t do any outside work,” Butler said Thursday.

From June 27 until he was shot and killed on July 6, Patrick Tracy Burris allegedly killed five people in Gaffney and terrorized the community before being shot and killed on Monday, July 6. As investigators grapple with motive, and reporters ask authorities why Burris wasn’t incarcerated, trucking families recounted a tense, emotional 10 days spent mostly away from their families.

On June 27, Kline Cash, 63, was killed. On July 1, Hazel Linder and her daughter, Gena Linder Parker, 50, were bound and shot in Linder’s home. That crime scene is about two miles from the Butler residence.

Butler’s wife was a classmate of Parker’s.

“It was all very tragic,” Butler said quietly.

Butler, a former Gaffney police sergeant and shift supervisor, called former co-workers at the station for insight as investigators grappled to find the killer.

Their information wasn’t encouraging.

“They basically didn’t have anything to go on,” Butler said. “They had a description and a sketch of a suspect, but that was basically it. No name, motive or any idea of where he was living at the time.

Butler’s college-age son and daughter stayed around the house, mostly inside, during the manhunt. When Butler had to leave town again after two days at home, he said he was more at ease knowing they were staying with his wife.

“I felt fairly secure,” Butler said. “We have, of course, several guns in the house.”

OOIDA member John Martin also learned about the killings from relatives.

With two grown children and seven grandchildren in Gaffney, Martin said he worried the entire first week after the first murder. Martin was making his regular run between Tennessee and Florida during that week, and didn’t go home until the July 4 weekend.

His mother moved in with relatives, and Martin got reports about each subsequent killing in phone calls from her and other family members.

“My biggest worry was for my family,” said Martin, who’s lived in Gaffney all his life.

Driving around town after coming home, Martin said Gaffney had an eerie, ghost-town feel. Parks were mostly empty, doors were locked, and some fireworks shows for Independence Day were canceled.

“Everyone was just real nervous,” Martin said. “Everybody was keeping their doors shut. You wouldn’t have wanted to be a door-to-door salesman; I’ll say that.”

Since Monday, when Gaffney residents and the world learned police shot and killed Patrick Tracy Burris, Martin said people have begun working their way back to normal.

A previous strangler in the area was famous in the 1960s, but Martin said the recent killings were particularly chilling because they happened in broad daylight, including some very public locations. Stephen Tyler and his daughter Abby, 15, were shot and killed in their family’s furniture store just blocks from county sheriff’s offices on July 2.

Several media reports, including The Associated Press say Burris had a long rap sheet and apparently abused drugs before going on the rampage. Some law enforcement officials were blaming the judicial system for not incarcerating him sooner for parole violations.

“I’m just glad it’s over with,” Martin said. “I hate it for (Burris’) family that he had to be killed – but this needed to come to an end for everybody else.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer